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Winter

I long for the smell,
an old dirty rope,
the creak noises
of boats, tied safe
to their moorings.

Instead the cold touch,
ice on my fingers,
the crunch. frozen
snow. my shoes.

2013

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Once, when I was in the second grade, Jeff Johnson talked me into saying swear words with him. It was not difficult to convince me. For a second-grader, any second-grader, swear words are mystical incantations, special words of power which, when pronounced to the open air, could summon forth the secret powers that lay hidden behind them.

Like most children, I had learned the basic canon of swear words from listening to my parents and their friends. By paying close attention to how they were used, I had worked out a basic hierarchy of the most common curses.  Terms like “crap” and “hell” were hardly treated like swear words at all (the kid up the block once said crap in front of his parents accidentally, and they hadn’t even punished him for it, so he said). “Shit”, “ass”, and “goddammit” seemed to occupy a sort of middle ground. These would get you in  trouble, but parents would often use them in front of the kids and not feel too  guilty about it.

Something called “fuck” seemed to occupy a place of particular significance.  This word was reserved for extreme situations or when the speaker wanted to emphasize a point. I wasn’t entirely sure what a fuck was. In fact, it was difficult to tell, because this word, alone among the words I was aware of, could mean almost anything. One could use it as a verb, as in “he fucked her”. But fucks were also apparently something that could be given or withheld, as the situation required. For example, “nobody gives a fuck about that asshole.” In another context, fuck could function as an adjective and help clarify something in greater detail, like “that was fucking loud”. I was excited to learn more about these strange words, and jumped at the chance to try them out.

We walked out onto the dusty, unused baseball field where we could be safe from the sharp ears and eyes of Mrs. Manna, the lunch lady, who ruled over the midday recess with an iron fist. Then, we said all the swears we could think of from “hell” to “fuck” with great gusto. We challenged one another to combine the words in byzantine permutations ( “yeah and then she craps on his face and shits on his ass.”). This was great fun, and I was getting ready to put together another when Jeff gave me a strange and mischievous look.

“Ok. Now I’m telling on you for saying swears,” he said. He began to jog off the field and make his way toward Mrs. Manna, who was making some kids stand against the wall for something they had done (probably a lesser offense than swearing). I immediately panicked, and began to chase after him. This was my first mistake. Had I simply laughed and told him to go “shit” himself to “hell”, he would have just moved on and tried his little entrapment scheme on some other kid. But Jeff was inherently quick and dominating, whereas I was inherently malleable and slow-witted. I couldn’t match him in terms of fortitude. So, Instead I chased after him and pleaded with him not to tell on me.

I chased him out of the baseball field and across the blacktop. I chased him past the swings and the slide and around the three cottonwood trees.  The whole time, mewling in a high-pitched voice.

“Come on, pal. Buddy. Don’t tell. I thought we were friends.”

“Sorry,” he laughed, keeping just out of reach. “I have to tell.”

“No. You don’t have to tell, man. Pal. Aren’t we buddies?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna tell.”

“Nooooo!”

It went on like this for the entire recess. Me chasing him around the playground. He always kiting me, always just out of my grasp. A couple of times, he stopped and told me he had changed his mind. I would sigh in relief and we would both have a good laugh. Then he would make his threat again and take off running and I would dutifully follow him begging and bleating at him. like a little lost lamb.

Looking back, it seems incredibly stupid of me not to figure out what he was doing. Dude!, I want to shout at my second grade self, he isn’t even running toward the lunch lady. What are you, retarded?” But the idea that somebody would mess with me like this simply didn’t exist in my brain. If he said he was going to tell, then he was going to tell. People don’t say one thing and then do something else. That would make the world a horrible place to live in. Even if he was just having fun, what if he told her anyway? It would mean a trip to the principal’s office for sure; it would mean a phone call to my parents, that or a note home. My panic reached a fugal state as I contemplated the multitude of punishments that might lay in store for me.

At one point, I thought I had found a way out. I tried threatening him with mutual retaliation. If he told on me I’d tell on him. “So what?” Jeff laughed. “We’ll both get in trouble. My parents don’t care.” At that point, all my hope faded. He had me over a barrel. What could I do but chase him? I tried every plea that I could think of, which mostly amounted to saying “c’mon buddy.” or “don’t tell pal…buddy?….buddy pal?” But rhetoric fell on deaf ears. He could not be swayed.

Recess was drawing to a close. A few kids were already lingering near the door, getting ready to line up. Jeff grew tired of torturing me, and made straight for for Mrs. Manna, who was giving the wall standers a final harangue. I followed at a distance, completely defeated in body and soul. He sauntered up to her and told her, “Matt said swears,”

“What?” She growled.

“Matt said swear words. I heard him.” This was it. I was down to the wire.

Mrs. Manna made an angry face, but to my surprise she directed it at Jeff. “So what?” she asked him. “I didn’t hear it, and I bet you said them too.”

Jeff had a surprised look on his face, as did I. He started to say, “yeah but-”

“Nobody likes a tattle-tale, kid,” Mrs. Manna grumbled. “Now get in line.” She looked at me for a moment that seemed to stretch a little. “You too,” she told me in no less harsh a tone. Then, she turned back to the wall-standers. “You kids had better shape up or next time I’ll…” But I wasn’t listening. I had been reprieved. I couldn’t believe it. After all the panic, It was simply over. My life could go on as it had done without the specter of punishment.

I got in line. Jeff had already forgotten about the whole incident, He was laughing and joking with some other kids farther up the line. But I felt different. Sadder, yes. But also elevated somehow. I had been keyed up for so long that something had happened to my brain. I felt carefree, like I was floating. The colors of the changing leaves seemed to burst forth in vivid orange and red. The low October sun seemed almost to set the air on fire.  In my transcendent state, I followed the line inside feeling older, though not necessarily wiser.

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My Nightmares

My Nightmares

To Andrew Hudigns

My nightmares. They’re nothing like the lonely dead
you wrote about, perhaps at night, late at night
when you couldn’t sleep. I don’t have trouble
sleeping. Only the dreams I have these days
are beginning to bother me. I am going
back to my old school and my old desk
and my old friends are there, but they are busy.
too busy to talk just now. And my old bosses
are glad to see I have returned. But they’re not
in charge any more, and they don’t much care.
And I’m left to walk the halls. Alone. Strangers.
Like some kind of fucking stranger hanging
on the brown banister. Lingering outside
the brown frames of doors, unable to enter,
or the mailboxes, greasy brown. Either that
or I dream I found my zippo but when I wake
I can’t remember any longer where it was.

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A Slight WTF

Ok I want to know who found my blog by searching for “seventeen year old having sex”

When I saw on the dashboard that somebody found me with that search, I tried to google and yahoo that phrase and it didn’t come up, which was a relief. Anyway i’m just curious.

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Mold-A-Rama

Last weekend I went to the zoo with some very lovely ladies. It was nice to have a date. It was nice to see the animals. But those of you who have been to Brookfield Zoo all know what the real attraction is. Of course I’m talking about the Mold-A-Rama machines.

The Mold-A-Rama is a cool old machine that makes little plastic statues while you stand there and watch it happen. I don’t think that I can accurately convey the joy that one of these machines can bring to the human heart. You put your money in. You press the button and watch as the hydraulic mechanism pushes the two halves of the mold together. The machine makes a whirring sound. The air is filled with a cloying scent as the molten plastic is injected into the mold. After about three quarters of a minute, the mold separates and your beautiful Mold-A-Rama sculpture is dropped into the tray where you can retrieve it, still hot, into your own hands.

Many things in life turn out to be less than promised. But the Mold-A-Rama has never failed to make my heart sing with the pure, clean, joy of melted plastic.

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Well, as most of you probably know, five students were killed on the 14th at NIU, in the building next to mine. None of my students were killed, for which I am extremely happy. I’ve already lost one student this year to a car accident and I do not wish to ever repeat the experience if I can avoid it. Tomorrow I will see my students for the first time since the attack.

I don’t have anything much interesting to say about the attack. Except that I hope they put the shooter’s girlfriend (who talked him out of taking his medication) in prison for impersonating a human being.

I think that my feelings about the tragedy are best expressed in the words of the WWII era song “Wartime Lullaby,” as sung by Elton Britt. The lyrics are not really relevant but the sentiment express my feelings, so I will print them here.

to the tune of Away in a Manger

Hush thee my baby, lie still in my arms
safe from the terror of war’s great alarm.
Nestle up close to thy mother’s warm breast.
Sleep little baby and hush thee to rest.

Hark the swift planes flying through the blue sky
where daddy is keeping his vigil on high.
Lie close to thy mother, my baby my dear.
Soon the glad signal will sound the all clear.

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At least once a week, when I am at Northern Illinois University, and on my way to teach English composition, I am stopped in the hallway by a confused student who is looking for a certain room in “reevous” hall. The first few times this happened, it didn’t strike me as anything special. But after I got comfortable and began to think of the English building as my home away from home, I began to wonder about its history.

Reavis Hall (pronounced “rev-us”) is named after the influential educator, William Claude Reavis, who lived from 1881-1955. Mr. Reavis began his career as a teacher in rural Indiana and eventually became a professor of education at University of Chicago. Reavis published a number of books on educational administration, including The Elementary School, its Organization and Administration, and War and Post-War Responsibilities of American Schools.

As Chairman of the commission on appointments and field services, Reavis showed a high level of competence. When Illinois school district 158 hired him in 1949 to survey the north side of Lansing in order to determine the feasibility of a new school, he not only did this effectively, but also accurately predicted what the level of enrollment would be in 1960 to within eight students. There are a number of schools named after Mr. Reavis. Most notable of these is Reavis High School, in Burbank IL. as well as endowments and fellowships for people majoring in education administration

In the course of my research I learned that when Reavis Hall opened its doors in 1957, my own mother was one of the first students to attend classes within its walls. At that time, Reavis Hall fostered both English and Education classes.

Northern Illinois University was a great deal smaller in 1957, than it is now. According to my mother, the newly built Reavis Hall was on the outskirts of the campus. To get from Altgeld Hall, which housed classrooms back then and not administration offices, students had to cross what my mother describes as “a frozen tundra.” With no stadium or residence halls on the opposite side of Anne Glidden Road, the prevailing winds could pretty much roam freely from the Rocky Mountains until they got to Reavis. According to my mother, it was a real project to get there and students had to be very careful in bad weather, lest they get blown over on their way.

In fact, when Reavis Hall was built, the Kishwaukee river flowed east of Altgeld hall. It has since been diverted to run past Reavis.

Today Reavis Hall is no longer on the outskirts. Since 1957, the NIU campus has expanded to the point that Reavis is closer to the center than the outside. The intervening space between it and Altgeld has been more or less completely filled. With the construction of the Holmes Student Center, Founders Library, Zulaft Hall, and any number of smaller buildings, students can now reach Reavis without trekking across an open plain. The Convocation Center, Lincoln and Douglas residence halls, and of course the Stevenson building all serve to mitigate some of the wind that threatened to knock over my mother and her classmates.

Although the building is now fifty-one years old, Reavis is still much in use today. As the central hub for the First Year Composition program, Reavis Hall is visited by nearly every student that attends the university. Both undergraduate and graduate level English classes are held every day of the week in its “smart” computerized classrooms. Every spring, Reavis Hall hosts the Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media, which attracts presenters from all over the country. In addition, Reavis is used for various community activities such as the Muggle Academy for Jr. high and high-school students to enjoy the richness that literature has to offer.

Just last year all of the windows were replaced with more efficient and prettier looking tinted windows. Reavis is now warm in winter and cool in summer instead of the other way around. In addition to that, a number of the smart classrooms were recently upgraded with Sympodiums, which are a next-generation computer that allows instructors to write directly on the screen and save their notes. Reavis Hall may be a little aged, but it certainly isn’t too old.

The recent upgrades will insure that the building is capable of providing service to students and teachers for a number of generations to come. Plans may be in the works to add Reavis to the list of buildings with wireless internet capability. There are still a few classrooms that are not smart, due to the fact that a number of professors prefer a more traditional feel for their room. As time passes, however, these will probably become upgraded as well.

Because I lack the aptitude for educational administration possessed by the man after whom the building is named, I find it hard to tell exactly what the future is going to hold for Reavis Hall. However, two things are likely to remain constant. Reavis Hall will continue to provide opportunities for students and teachers to interact in a comfortable atmosphere, and undergraduates will most likely continue to mispronounce the name.

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